The data you gather will depend on what you are trying to heal (or optimize), and what strategy you are using to get there.
Data comes in two basic flavours: quantitative & qualitative.
Quantitative data quantifies; qualitative data describes.
- Keeping a journal about your biohacking experience is qualitative.
- Using technology to measure your brain activity or heart rate is quantitative. As is filling out an assessment form that includes pre-determined response options.
Biohackers like the quantitative, because it generates numbers. Numbers are easy to compare to each other over time.
So here's a quick introduction to some approaches for gathering quantitative data for your biohacking experiments.
Measurement is a form of observation. A form that translates the phenomena that is observed into numbers.
Not everything can be measured, but many things can.
Obviously, it is easy to quantify all the usual biometrics if you have the right technology: heart rate, weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
But it is also possible to measure many other biological states and types of experience, with and without high-tech devices.
There’s a reason why health care providers ask people to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10. Though the experience of pain is subjective, individuals know what a ‘7’ is compared to a ‘9’ or a ‘3’, for them. And that gives a caregiver useful information.
People can also rate the ebb and flow of other symptoms on a scale of 1-10.
This enables a quick assessment of their experience of their illness at any given moment. And it also enables tracking of pain and other symptoms over time.
Gary Wolf co-founded a company called The Quantified Self. His 5-minute video exemplifies the quantitative ethic in biohacking:
But despite the typical biohacker's obsession with gadgets, high-tech methods aren't required to gather useful quantitative data.
Any standardized measurement system that rates wellness in one or more domains can be compared over time, and therefore used to track progress.
Many people use an app to measure and track biometrics.
New technologies are proliferating so quickly that an attempt to list them here would be dated by the time you read this. For a comprehensive list, check out the guide to self-tracking tools from the Quantified Self website.
Here are a few low-tech examples:
Spoon theory is used by people with chronic illnesses, including autoimmune conditions, to describe the amount of energy available on a given day for life tasks. Although spoons are a subjective unit of measurement, and therefore can't be compared between people, they can be used to quantitatively track fluctuations in one person's energy over time.
Spoons also enable chronically ill people to quickly assess & quantitatively communicate about their energy levels to others. As a healthy person, I have found spoon theory really useful as a way to understand my husband Matthew's reality (& why he sometimes can't cook dinner or unload the dishwasher. Literally.)
Spoons are a small enough unit of measurement that you can also track subtle improvement trends (or declines) that may not show up in other measurement systems.
The Medical Symptoms Questionnaire
Many Functional Medicine practitioners use the Medical Symptoms Questionnaire (MSQ) for assessment purposes.
You can use the MSQ to generate quantitative data, and with repeated use of the questionnaire, you can then chart your progress by comparing your scores in particular domains, as well as your scores for overall well-being.
Find a printable pdf of the MSQ here.
If you get a low score on the MSQ, you know your health is on-track, and you can start biohacking for optimization (because 'good' health is just the beginning~).
I like the MSQ because it measures both frequency and severity of symptoms, enabling tracking across a couple of dimensions at the same time. However, it is of little use to people whose health is already fantastic and who are therefore seeking optimization data. In that case, you might need to customize.
You'll want to track symptoms or capacities that are of particular interest to you.
Biohacking for healing:
- the number & type of of painkillers or other pharmaceuticals you take;
- the size & range of psoriasis or eczema patches; or
- where you feel pain & its severity (give it a rating between 1-10);
Use a diagram of a human to keep track of the location of particular symptoms. Colour code them for severity (green, yellow & red work well) & use the same colours at each assessment, to enable comparison over time.
Whatever quantitative data you gather: standardize your system for best results. Create your personalized assessment strategy, then write it up & duplicate it, to ensure consistency.
Gather data at regular intervals.
Whether you are using spoons, a sleep app, the Medical Symptoms Questionnaire or a combination of methods, be sure date (& file) each quantitative assessment for comparison purposes.
It's also also important to document what n=1 experiments you are implementing (and any other variables that may be impacting your well-being).
But that's another blog post.
The Ultimate Health Journal E-book
Gather data with Christina Feindel's Ultimate Health Journal.
The Ultimate Health Journal is straight-forward, yet comprehensive.
Logging your diet, exercise, sleep habits, stress management, social life, time outdoors and symptoms can help you find patterns, whether you are working with a health care team or trying to figure things out on your own.